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Government, Politics & Issues

Clay becomes senior member of Missouri's House delegation, but realistic about clout

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 24, 2013 - Although he was sworn in to another term three weeks ago, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay took part in another swearing-in Thursday – at the federal Eagleton Courthouse downtown – to mark his new status as the senior member of Missouri’s U.S. House delegation.

Clay ascended to that unofficial post at midnight Tuesday, with the effective resignation of now former U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.

Federal U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry conducted the swearing-in, which she emphasized was ceremonial.  Clay said that Perry had offered to conduct the ceremony, as a show of respect.

Clay, D-St. Louis, also is opening a new district office in the Eagleton Courthouse.

Those in attendance for the event included St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Comptroller Darlene Green.  Clay, said Slay, "has been, and will continue to be, a strong voice for St. Louis."

As a dean of a predominantly Republican state delegation, Clay appeared to be realistic of what he can and cannot do. (The current Missouri member of Congress with the longest tenure overall is U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who served in the U.S. House from 1997-2011, before moving to the Senate.)

On the plus side, Clay cited on Thursday his recent selection as the top Democrat of the House’s International Monetary Policy and Trade subcommittee, which will deal with such matters as the Import-Export Bank and the World Bank.

Clay said that post will give him more clout when it comes “to helping develop legislation around trade, so that we can create jobs here in Missouri and St. Louis, based on trade.”

A Clay aide said the panel is particularly important to major Missouri companies like Boeing, which do a lot of international business. Clay’s district includes Boeing’s operation near Lambert Field.

Clay acknowledged that his influence – even as the dean -- would be limited when it comes to Missouri’s six GOP members of the U.S. House, who generally disagree with him on most issues. He and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City are the state’s sole Democrats in that chamber.

Clay has said in an earlier interview with the Beacon that he would be jointly coordinating meetings of the state's delegation with U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of Tarkio, who is Missouri's senior House Republican.

And there’s the fact that Republicans also control the U.S. House. He and Cleaver, Clay said, “know we need to collaborate to be effective.”

A trump card could be Clay’s “constant contact’’ with Missouri’s senior member of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Claire McCaskill.

“Claire and I had just had an hour-long conversation today,” Clay said with a chuckle, “ in laying the groundwork for our efforts going forward, legislatively, and how we get the most out of the three of us, with her being in a Democratic-controlled setting.”

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